Welcome to Part Two of Terry's Tales. If you missed Part One, you can catch up here.
Part Two: The Lady Killers
If he was honest with himself, Terry knew that there was a bigger reason, lurking below the surface, for his outburst. It was the profound anxiety suffered by every male in the colony, that none of them could talk about (in fairness, Terry thought, they can’t talk): that to copulate was to die. Copulation Means Extermination, as his dear old Ma used to chirp.
Making the tea back in his tunnel the next morning, the rain beat down outside and he put an old record on and stood, inert, as the steam billowed from the kettle.
“Oh to be an ant!” He thought, pitifully. What other creatures must choose between having sex and dying, and never Doing the Deed? Birds do it. Bees do it. Even bloody humans do it. A cruel joke, that one.
It had never bothered him before – he’d taken it as life’s lot, as he had done with being a Talker – but it seemed to bother him rather a lot now. Why? “May the Queen have Mercy, I like her.” Admitting it was a relief. “I like her, but I don’t want to die… I like her but I don’t want to die,” he glumly mused. Settling into his chair and stretching out, he thought of his Ma again. She’d never regretted sex, even though the old man had quickly snuffed it.
“It’s part of life, son,” she had soothingly told him, never one to make a fuss unduly. Terry had always admired her stoicism and twinkle of naughty humour, however bad things were – she wore life lightly and he tried to do the same. But thinking of her now, of how her short time in the colony was ended so brutally and mercilessly, he could not muster the same lightness and he could not escape the stifling sense of guilt.
It had happened on Terry’s first week birthday, when he was officially presented to the colony at the weekly Initiation Ceremony for new arrivals, attended by the Queen. Wearing her best attire, antennae bristling with pride, Terry’s Ma took her young son along to the Inner Sanctum, adjacent to the Queen’s chambers. But, on the lap of honour with the other arrivals, Terry, still lacking in co-ordination, tripped up and plunged face-first into the neatly-raked soil. Having been sternly warned by his Ma that morning not to speak in front of anyone, least of all the Queen, Terry held back the cry of mild expletives running through his head, but it was his Ma who made the fatal mistake. “Terry!” she’d cried as he fell. The march stopped, a thousand ant heads swivelled in unison in her direction. She made no move and no further sounds but, as the Queen shrieked instructions for her to be taken off to the gallows, she looked at Terry and winked. Though now blinded by tears, he winked back, and smiled. And then she was gone.
And it was then that Terry realised that it was the Queen and the Generals, and they alone, who were supposed to talk. His Ma had always warned him that they hated speaking, though she didn’t know why, and now the depressing consequences were crystal clear to this young orphan.
Shell-shocked and trembling, Terry saw that the room’s attention had now turned to him and, before he could think, a severe-looking General was standing before him, watching him with scientific scrutiny. “What’s your name, ant?” Terry looked as blank as he could. “Your name!!” Summoning as much dullness in his eyes as he could, Terry looked blankly up and continued his silence. Cogs churning, the General, not quite as intelligent as he imagined himself, was satisfied that Terry was not a talker. So it was that he escaped death and began his lonely path in colony life.
Presently, Terry noticed that the rain had stopped and the temperature had picked up a little. He put down his now cold tea and walked to the window. His Pa had sacrificed it all for love and neither he nor his Ma had thought twice about it. The romance of it softened Terry’s mood and he made up his mind in a flash. “They’re right. They are so right! Living just isn’t living without loving!” And, with that, he grabbed his coat, headed out into the rain and resolved on finding this mystery ant, wherever she was.
Read Part Three by clicking here.
Images artfully crafted by Cat Ardeleanu.